The Pursuit of Excellence

By | September 12, 2021

[September 12, 2021]  In January 1999, U.S. Navy Captain L. David Marquet took command of the nuclear submarine USS Santa Fe (SSN-763).  At the time, the sub was known throughout the Navy as its worst performing vessel and yet had been listed for a deployment later that year.  The story of Captain Marquet’s success was, at its core, turning followers into leaders and aggressively pursuing excellence.

It’s a compelling story about how Captain Marquet took a Navy sub and turned around the performance of its crew. When he took command he noted that the crew was in a self-reinforcing downward spiral where poor practices resulted in mistakes.  These mistakes feed on each other and degraded morale which only resulted in the crew having less initiative and only doing the minimum to get by.

Who hasn’t seen this in an organization?  The question is, “What do real leaders do about it?”  His focus was to change the daily motivation from avoiding errors to achieving excellence.  This meant that short-term rewards were sacrificed for longer-term goals.  Senior leaders like Marquet know that to achieve excellence means more than just avoiding errors.

Organizations heavily influenced by bureaucracy, however, will always struggle because the leaders can never get beyond short-term goals and a focus on eliminating errors.  Reducing mistakes is a byproduct of pursuing excellence not the other way around.1  The best way to do this is by giving more authority to people in the organization.  This is where better information on the problems reside anyway.

Many senior leaders are reluctant to do this.  Too many have been caught in the trap of their own personality of importance.  That is why only the best leaders can effectively push down authority; failure is the most likely outcome for those who cannot make this happen.  Yet with authority comes responsibility, accountability, and hard work.  And these are the seeds of the most successful organizations.

Senior leaders are successful at pursuing excellence.  They do this in many ways but the most important is to recognize that they must rely on others, avoid micromanagement, and look to the long-term goals.

To read more on this story visit Captain (Retired) Marquet’s website at http://turntheshiparound.com/ and read his book (my recommendation link here).

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  1. See Simon Sinek’s 2009 book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Also see my recommendation here: https://www.theleadermaker.com/reading-list-update-38/

 

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

13 thoughts on “The Pursuit of Excellence

  1. Forrest Gump

    Loved today’s blog post. Gen. Satterfield, when are you coming out with your new book? I think you implied it would be this month. Looking forward to it.

    Reply
  2. E.T.

    Top notch article for me to read this morning and enjoy. Another example of why I keep coming back to this leadership website.

    Reply
  3. Max Foster

    A ton of books and articles have been written on this topic and will forever. But, what I find obvious and plain ole common sense, the new direction of American is in the opposite direction. Maybe I’m just old fashioned and out of date to do the right thing here. The most popular president in American history, Joe Biden, is overseeing us and pushing us in the opposite direction. Ha Ha. Just because we have a temporary downward turn, he believes, is just an aberration but I think it is a feature. Biden is lying to us or he is just stupid and doesn’t know any better. The pursuit of excellence is the only way to succeed.

    Reply
    1. JT Patterson

      Wow, great comment Max on Gen. Satterfield’s article and a testament to the utter failure of our political leadership’s direction today. We are a nation on a downward slide and our leadership can’t see it. Oh, a better analogy, we are on a sinking ship.

      Reply
      1. Yusaf from Texas

        You’re right JT, of course. And, so is Gen. Satterfield. Thanks to you all.

        Reply
      2. Erleldech

        YES, great comment and analysis. I would like Gen. Satterfield to give us a little more info here and do also a story to go with each of those things that make up “the pursuit of excellence.”

        Reply
  4. Mr. T.J. Asper

    Excellent article, thank you Gen. Satterfield. This is a great story of a US Navy Captain and how his pursuit of excellence made everybody a winner. Contrast this with the downward spiral of how leftists are destroying America by their pursuit of stupidity.

    Reply
    1. Nick Lighthouse

      👍👍👍👍👍 YES! To be a great leader, you must know people and their motivations. Leftist politicians and nutjobs that they are, do not understand any human principle. That is why they always fail.

      Reply

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